The Middle-Aged Under-Mothered Child


depression in the mirror

For the last three years I have been on an endless quest to “fix” myself so I do not hurt my children with my Depression and Anxiety.  I research, I write, I often judge myself harshly  and then I study some more and find something else to beat myself up about.  But hopefully through this process, what I absorb is changing my parenting for the better. I still see my behavior toward my children through the lens of my depression but more importantly, I see it also by the light of what I’ve learned.  And while it may be difficult in the moment, I can course adjust as needed so we’re not headed completely off the rails as a family.

Through my research, I have learned a great deal about Attachment Theory and its relationship to Depression and Anxiety in children.  First analyzed by John Bowlby decades ago, it has since been studied by many psychologists and written about by countless experts in the field of child development.  In the case of secure attachment, the primary caregiver (in our culture this is most often mom), provides a secure base from which the child can explore the world and safely return as needed.  A securely attached child feels loved and protected from the earliest stages of life by their primary caregiver.  An insecurely attached child, which sometimes results from the mother’s emotional unavailability, can have a great many resulting difficulties including a deep sense of rejection and a lack of self-worth. Often the worst outcomes include children later diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety (Ahhh, my life in non-fiction).  Many times insecure attachment results from the child having a depressed or anxious mother.  After learning about this from my own doctors, I read a book entitled the “Emotionally Absent Mother,” by Jasmin Lee Cori, during which I simultaneously saw my own childhood unfold on her pages as well as what might happen to my own children if I didn’t change my behavior.

One of my favorite authors, who wrote a great deal about such topics, was John Bradshaw who recently passed away.  He had a traumatic early life and understood intimately the damage that could be done by ill and/or withholding parents.  He wrote:

“We need to know from the beginning that we can trust the world…If we had a primary caregiver who was mostly predictable, and who touched us and mirrored all our behaviors, we developed a sense of basic trust. When security and trust are present, we begin to develop an interpersonal bond, which forms a bridge of empathetic mutuality. Such a bridge is crucial for the development of self-worth. The only way a child can develop a sense of self-worth is through a relationship with another…In our earliest stages of life we can only know ourselves in the mirroring-eyes of our primary caregivers (Bradshaw, 2005).”

I need to be that predictable and mirroring caregiver.  But it is so hard when it was never modeled for you.  It is not innate for me like it is for some Mom’s I watch.  I despise living my life like a science experiment, but I am an observer of parenting now…always searching out the correct behaviors because I never learned them in my first family.  W0rst of all, I cannot be around my own mother for any length of time anymore because it causes me to regress.  I’m no longer the striving good mother when I’m in her presence.  I am the rejected child.  I become the middle-aged,  “under-mothered” child to borrow Jasmin Cori’s phrase and I forget how to act.  I simply react to her endless selfish behaviors.  I become angry and lash out or I withdraw completely.  I am 16 again and hate the world and everyone in it.

No matter how old you get, maternal rejection has the ability to crush your spirit and devalue your accomplishments in a manner unlike almost anything else…if you let it.  Some people stronger than I may be able to blow it off…ignore the crazy old lady.  I am so jealous of such people.  I cannot do this.  Somewhere inside me, there is still a screaming child who just wants her mommy to love her.  And the only way to calm the child is to remove my mother from the picture and re-mother that child myself.  This used to make me even more upset and resentful.  But I’ve learned…So what?  So what if I have to re-mother myself.  It’s good practice for the ones who matter most…my own kids.


The Middle-Aged Under-Mothered Child

The Vulnerability of Depression


I cannot believe it’s been a month since I’ve posted.  But depression can make you lose track of days and weeks in a blur of mindless activity between the blissful periods of unconscious sleep.  I try so hard to walk the walk with my kids and enjoy every minute I can with them but sometimes it’s just beyond my capabilities.  And of anyone out there whom I though understood, I thought my husband did…but he really doesn’t.   Not totally.

Last month we had an awful fight.  The kind that erodes a small bit of your relationship.  If you have too many of these kinds of fights I suppose that’s how you end up divorced.  Luckily (and I hope it stays this way), we don’t ever fight like this.  He said things that night out of frustration that I know he now wishes had never escaped the filters he normally uses with me.  I understand that my moods make him “crazy” sometimes, but he has to shield me because I’m so vulnerable.  I have no natural protection from hurtful words.  PTSD does that to me.  But this time he couldn’t help it.  And now I feel just a little bit differently about us.  He was my biggest protector and my best friend and he used my trigger points against me.  I’m still somewhat shocked even a month later.

It started as simply as this:  He’s working insane hours lately.  And when he’s not at work he is going to my daughter’s softball games.  Every weekend, non-stop.  I go sometimes…when I’m up for it and when the other two kids want to go.  But not all the time.  Otherwise the whole family would be living at the softball field.  But one night, I was really down and feeling so lonely that I told him I feared he was spending so much time with her to avoid being with me.  He went nuts.  Not only did he accuse me of being a poor mom for not participating in my kids’ activities enough, he said I was just like my mother!  Isolating myself and hiding away so I could wallow in my depression.  He said I was also being like my father by refusing to foster friendships with new people…softball moms especially.  I couldn’t believe it.  If there were a list of “the worst things you can say to hurt me,” these were the top 3.

I cried for the next several days despite his apologies and claims I misunderstood.  He even took two weeks off from work to spend time with me.  But it took about that long for me to be around him again without getting upset.  His words kept bouncing around my head so badly that they were drowning out everything else.  I’m just now, a month or so later, coming out of the fog this fight caused.  Mother’s Day was nice despite him being with my daughter at a softball tournament all weekend.  Her team won the tournament so I just decided to be happy about that.  But something is different now.  I’m a little more broken than before.  Something has changed in the way I see my husband and I’m not sure it will ever go back to the way it was.  I am praying not for forgiveness…I have forgiven him.  I am praying I will forget the words.  I wish there was a way to erase that memory forever.  I want my best friend back.  And I’m the one keeping him out.

The Vulnerability of Depression